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Education, Awareness Focus of World Cancer Day
February 2, 2012

By Charlene Porter
IIP Staff Writer

People dressed in pink
With pink as their signature color, breast cancer survivors celebrate their cure with a balloon release before a ball game on the field of the Oakland (California) Athletics.


The United States joins the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), the World Health Organization and a host of other players in recognition of World Cancer Day February 4, an event to raise awareness of one of the leading causes of death worldwide.

Cancer, in its many forms, took 7.6 million lives in 2008, the last year of comprehensive data available. Deaths attributed to cancer are expected to top 11 million in 2030, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Lung, stomach, liver, colon and breast cancer cause the most deaths each year. WHO says as many as 30 percent of all cancer deaths are brought on by the risks we take in life.

A main objective of World Cancer Day is to warn people about those risks, all of which are within the individual’s power to control: high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use and alcohol use.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says on its World Cancer Day Web page, “Research suggests that one-third of cancer deaths can be avoided through prevention, and another third through early detection and treatment.”

The 2012 recognition of World Cancer Day is the first since the global community took an important step forward in combating cancer and other noninfectious diseases last year. The U.N. General Assembly held a special session on noncommunicable diseases in September 2011 to engage governments in taking actions to reduce occurrence of diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Raising awareness about noncommunicable diseases is especially important for developing countries, where half the world’s cancer occurs but where public health infrastructure is least prepared to detect and treat disease before it becomes irreversible.

CDC reports that it has joined the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the UICC and other organizations in a project to close the cancer data gap in developing world nations. The Global Initiative for Cancer Registry Development in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (GICR) will help produce sound data on the occurrence of cancer as a step toward prevention.

“The need is pressing to expand the coverage of population-based cancer registries,” according to WHO documents, “in order to obtain more complete and reliable data to guide cancer control interventions.”

Cancer registries are a base for epidemiological research in a given country as they keep detailed data on the types of cancer and the characteristics of their occurrence. Experts are able to review this data and detect patterns that can be further analyzed to produce prevention measures.

Cancer registries in the United States describe 80 percent of the cancer cases that occur, but in South Asia registries capture data on only 4 percent of cases, and in Africa 0 percent.

Another CDC message for World Cancer Day is that prevention starts in childhood with the introduction of good health habits regarding diet, exercise and weight control. Playful, energetic children who want to stay outside are also vulnerable to severe sunburn. “Just a few serious sunburns can increase your child’s risk of skin cancer later in life,” reports CDC.

The CDC is also trying to raise awareness about the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that can be passed between partners during intercourse, as a principal cause of cervical cancer and a possible cause of vaginal and vulvar cancers. A vaccine is available to prevent HPV, and the CDC recommends it for girls 11 and 12. Girls and women 13 to 26 years old are also advised to get the vaccine if they did not do so at an earlier age.